DETROIT — After 20 minutes Tuesday night, the Bruins led the Red Wings, 2-0.
It might as well have been 8-0.
In Game 2, the Bruins fought back into the series with an emotional, revved-up, smashmouth effort. Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena was different. The Bruins played a professional, methodical, and efficient game to claim a 3-0 win and a 2-1 series lead.
The Bruins, after all, can play any way you want — physical, skilled, grinding, up-tempo, tactical. They look even better when their opponents perform like amateurs.
The game was over after 20 minutes. The Wings handed the Bruins a pair of goals. Detroit usually plays engaged and cerebral hockey. The first period was full of brain cramps.
Detroit’s tumble started after being caught with too many men on the ice at 7:40 of the first. On the power play, the Wings welcomed the Bruins into the offensive zone. Dougie Hamilton started the rush in his own zone. Hamilton, facing zero resistance, cruised through center ice and floated past a passive stick check by Darren Helm.
It wouldn’t be the first.
Kyle Quincey tried to slow down Hamilton with another stick check. Nothing doing. Hamilton blew past Quincey and flicked a snap shot over Jimmy Howard’s glove for the game-winning goal.
“We’d been in meetings all morning with the penalty kill,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “It’s designed right. But we don’t do what we’re supposed to do there. That goal can’t go in there.”
The Wings continued to make mistakes. Shawn Thornton started the next goal-scoring sequence by hammering Brendan Smith along the wall. Because of the ferocity of Thornton’s forecheck, Smith coughed up the puck to Gregory Campbell in the neutral zone.
The Wings would have been in good shape had they held their ground. Instead, Smith and Niklas Kronwall decided it was a good time to get a rest. Thornton saw this happening. He had no intentions of doing the same.
As the top-pair defensemen drifted off the ice, the Bruins were starting their regroup. Campbell had gotten the puck to Kevan Miller. Thornton was circling in the neutral zone and making himself available at the offensive blue line. Before Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff could get into position, Thornton had ripped off a sharp-angle shot. Howard stopped the puck, but Jordan Caron was in the right spot to tuck in the rebound.
Game, set, match.
“We give them two goals,” Babcock said. “Look at it any way you want. We gave them two goals. It was almost like the energy in the building and the excitement, we didn’t handle it very good. We were off kilter right from the get go. I don’t think we got going until about 32 minutes into the game.”
It was as surgical a first period the Bruins could play. The Bruins recorded 22 shot attempts compared to Detroit’s 10, an indication of how much they played with the puck.
“Everybody was going,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “We were hitting and making plays and not hesitating. It was a good sign.”
Even though the Wings pushed in the second period, the game was in the bag. Where the Wings paid zero attention to detail, the Bruins did just about every little thing right. They skated with purpose in the offensive zone to foil Detroit’s retrievals and breakouts. They closed down lanes in the neutral zone to keep the Wings from gaining speed.
But they saved their best stuff for the defensive zone.
Rask has been a difference-making goalie. Only two pucks have slipped past Rask in three games: a Pavel Datsyuk snapper through a screen, and a shot off Luke Glendening’s stick and left leg. Rask has turned every other puck into a harmless object. He made his best stop on Justin Abdelkader in the third period by tracking the forward and lunging with his glove to keep the puck out of the net.
But Rask’s help has been spectacular. When they’re rolling defensively, the Bruins don’t sit back. They attack.
“Our defensive system is pretty good if we play to it,” Hamilton said. “We allow the outside shots and no really good scoring chances. I think it helps when our forwards are skating and back pressuring and things like that. I think when the forwards are skating offensively, getting on their D, and making them make mistakes, too, that’s how we get our success in this series.”
They pursue pucks on the walls. They brick up the slot to protect the house. Forwards backcheck aggressively to help out their defensemen. It is a five-man system that emphasizes multiple layers of protection in all areas of the defensive zone. This approach has turned dangerous players such as Gustav Nyquist, Johan Franzen, Tomas Tatar, and Tomas Jurco into ghosts. The Wings don’t get any clean looks at the net. When they do, they’re all from the perimeter.
“They tracked hard and pushed us to the outside,” Babcock said. “We had better entries on the power play. They looked like opportunities. But they were all from the outside on the power play.”
The edges of the rink are not places the Wings want to explore. They prefer to get inside in the dirty areas to make their offensive noise. The Bruins aren’t letting them get there. They’re setting themselves up for a second-round showdown against Montreal.